DEBATE – Has the demise of Rangers been good for Scottish football?

Matt Ford : Yes, Rangers’ collapse highlights the dangers of modern-day financial mismanagement

Without question, the never ending cloud of uncertainty surrounding Rangers has been a compelling storyline that we have all followed closely. Arguments about their demise and its implications for the nature of Scottish Football have unsurprisingly been hotly debated in the last few years, but arguably their liquidation and subsequent demotion to the basement of the Scottish Football League was positive.

At first glance this may seem surprising. The most successful club in the history of the Scottish game left with their reputation in tatters and subjected to the ignominy of lining up alongside largely semi-professional clubs, in the unglamorous surroundings of Scottish Football’s Leagues One and Two. How is that a positive, you may ask?

Well, it does not come down to the glamour of Scottish Football that is the Old Firm. In many respects it comes down to the fact that Rangers’ financial predicament, once it became public knowledge, sent out a warning to virtually every other professional football club in Britain as to what happens when you mismanage your finances. While Portsmouth’s fall from grace has been well documented within the English footballing pyramid, to lose a club of the magnitude of Rangers was unprecedented. In an age in football where money is no obstacle, it provided a stark wake up call for those who think the money-driven nature of football is sustainable. It isn’t, and mark my words, Rangers will be the first of many clubs who will go down this route if things don’t change and we aren’t more careful with how we manage football clubs. The sooner we realise they’re not rich men’s play things, frankly, the better.

I may have glossed over the immense suffering that Rangers supporters have had to endure over the last few years. The uncertainty, the taunts, the instability. Looking back on how things transpired, it would have been difficult to make such a story up. So, for those long suffering fans, I do have some sympathy.

Yet, one must look to the positives it brought to the Scottish game. At least temporarily it ended the dominance of the ‘big two’ in Scottish football, and on paper at least, it gave the likes of Dundee United and Aberdeen the chance to close the sizeable gap on perennial champions Celtic.

It also gave the opportunity to freshen up the Scottish football structure, a revamped version of which was launched in 2013 with the merger of the old SPL and Scottish Division’s One, Two and Three to form the SPFL.

But perhaps even further still, it provided much needed cash injections for the teams who Rangers have faced on route to the Scottish League Two title in 2013 and the League One title last season. While it is difficult to ignore the sponsorship hit and TV revenue that losing a club with the stature of Rangers from the top flight incurs, simply having fixtures against the blue half of Glasgow provided a massive spike to, largely semi-professional, clubs’ attendances, brought in TV revenue for televised lower league games in which Rangers played, and gave exposure to the lower reaches of the Scottish game. In my view, that’s a major positive.

Nearly three years on, things are far from rosy. They are sitting 3rd in the Scottish Championship and are looking on course for a play-off place, and such is the situation that promotion back to the top flight next season isn’t inconceivable. However, the debacle surrounding Ally McCoist and Kenny McDowall continues to rumble on.

Yet the positives are there as Scottish football is undergoing its biggest renaissance in the last two decades. Rangers’ fall from grace may have provided the platform for this progress and a realisation that football and, particularly, the financial side of the game are not immune from suffering the improbable. Football was taught a harsh lesson, and it is Rangers who are dealing with the consequences.

James Gutteridge : No, their demise seems to have impacted Scotland’s ability to develop young talent

Rangers’ collapse into administration will probably go down as one  of the most significant events in the history of Scottish football. One of the most historic and successful clubs in world football and an undisputed giant of the Scottish game, Rangers were once seemingly free of the financial struggles that have plagued so many Scottish football clubs over the years. However, years of financial mismanagement and indecision at board level finally took their toll and the Glasgow giants have been steadily working their way back up the Scottish footballing pyramid ever since.

No one could argue that Rangers’ situation has not had a profound impact on the Scottish footballing landscape. The real question is whether this change will prove beneficial for Scottish football or whether it may set back the progress we have witnessed over the past few years.

The Premiership might previously have been considered a two horse race between the Old Firm but now Celtic’s title dreams face challenges from the likes of Aberdeen and Dundee United, not teams that will strike fear into the hearts of Celtic fans or inspire the kind of fanatical rivalry Old Firm fans have grown used to.

The League and Scottish Cups may seem more open, indeed the cup format does give teams the chance to shock Celtic, but with the quality and depth of the Celtic squad it would be a brave man to bet his house against a domestic treble for the Bhoys this season.

The risk is that Scottish football – already deemed boring when the two Glasgow giants essentially battled for the title between themselves – will face an era of utter dominance by a single team, hardly a situation conducive to marketing your league and cup games to the broadcasting companies the sport is so reliant upon.

This ties in to the economic challenge Scottish football must now face. There is no doubt a large proportion of the income in Scottish professional football was reliant on Rangers’ participation. Rangers’ have one of the largest fan bases in British football and this is reflected in the level of ticket sales the Ibrox side record compared to every other Scottish team, excluding Celtic. Rangers’ absence has affected the general level of ticket sales for games in the Premiership, in no small part due to the absence of Rangers’ travelling support.

As well as falling ticket sales, Scottish Premiership clubs have been forced to deal with reduced sponsorship revenues and lower interest from potential new sponsors, owing to the lack of participation from one of the only truly global clubs the country has to offer.

Lastly, Rangers’ absence has the potential to rob the national team of a proving ground for talented Scottish players. Even while toiling in the lower divisions, Rangers managed to produce one of the more exciting young talents to emerge onto the Scottish football scene in the form of midfielder Lewis Macleod.

A cursory look at the Scotland national team would reveal that many of the players currently representing their country either came through the Rangers youth ranks or honed their talents playing for Rangers, both domestically and at European level. With the loss of a club of Rangers’ stature, it will surely prove harder for young Scottish talent to prepare themselves for the challenges of international football.

The obvious conclusion to draw is that without the Old Firm rivalry, Scottish football is just not the same. Lower average attendances and falling sponsorship and broadcasting revenue are symptomatic of the effect Rangers’ fall from grace has had. The sooner the ‘Gers return to their former glory, the better for anyone who can truly say they are a fan of Scottish football.

 

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